November 17, 2015



BOC takes up paying for nourishment, ferry tolling, zoning


By IRENE NOLAN


Topics of interest to Hatteras Island dominated the Dare County Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, Nov. 16.

The members of the board decided not to reconsider their resolution favoring ferry tolling and not to make changes to the current S-1 zoning in the tri-villages, received information from the county manager on creating a special tax district to help pay for Buxton Beach nourishment, and voted in favor of a Tourism Board grant of $50,000 to the Hatteras Island Ocean Center.

Here is a look at each of these topics.

BUXTON BEACH NOURISHMENT

At its last meeting on Nov. 2, Chairman Bob Woodard asked county manager Robert Outten and finance manager David Clawson to return to the board  at its next meeting on the "possibility of establishing a tax service district for the Buxton area...or for all of unincorporated Dare" to pay for beach nourishment in Buxton.

Dare County has asked for a special use permit from the National Park Service to restore about 2.5 miles of the beach in the area of north Buxton to stop ocean overwash that threatens Highway 12 -- a project that is expected to happen next summer and cost between $20 and $27 million.

Woodard also noted that Nags Head nourished its beaches several years ago, and Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, and Duck have their own town beach nourishment projects planned for next year.

Part of the cost of all four projects will be paid out of the Shoreline Management Fund, which is funded by a 2 percent county occupancy tax.

However, as Woodard noted, all four of the towns have asked their property owners to pony up part of the costs with some combination of town-wide tax increases and the creation of municipal tax districts. The theory is that wider beaches are good for business and contribute to the value of all of the property in a town -- both on and off the beach -- with beachfront owners having the most to gain.

Before Outten's presentation to the board got underway, Woodard announced that there would be no proposals or votes last night.  He said the board would take 45 to 60 days to study the issue and that it would be "a topic for the next four or five meetings."

Outten's presentation included no proposals, just information on which the commissioners can base their decision.

And first they must decide if they are going to create a special service district for Buxton beach nourishment.  In doing this, they must consider population, property values, tax rates, ability of district to pay, and any other matters that have a bearing.

Based on the information the board receives, it must then find that there is a need for a special district, that it is impossible or impracticable to provide the service countywide, that it is economically feasible, and that there is a demand by those who will be taxed.

If the board decides to create the special district, it must, of course, set the areas to be included and the rate and then prepare a report that would be available four weeks before a required public hearing.

Notice of the public hearing must be mailed to all property owners in the district four weeks before the hearing.

After the hearing, the board may adopt a resolution creating the service district and setting the tax rate, which can be effective in the next fiscal year after the adoption of the resolution.

Outten advised the commissioners that there are many different combinations of land areas they can consider in the district. However, the county must show that the taxpayers in the service district will receive a benefit that other county taxpayers -- who are not included in the district -- will not receive.

That requirement, he said, would make it difficult to include all of unincorporated Dare County since it would be hard to argue that taxpayers in unincorporated Dare -- for example, Stumpy Point -- would receive more benefit than those in incorporated areas of the county, such as Southern Shores.

It would be possible to include all Hatteras Island villages in the district, Outten said, though for the purposes of the presentation, he included only Buxton, Hatteras, and Frisco -- the three he was specifically asked about and would benefit the most from beach nourishment to keep Highway 12 open.

It would also be possible to include only oceanfront lots or a combination of oceanfront lots and some lots west of the oceanfront.

There are 34 oceanfront properties in the nourishment project area with a total value of $16,765,702. 

Outten said that in deciding how much the three towns -- Kitty Hawk, Duck, and Kill Devil Hills -- would pay and how much would come out of the county's Shoreline Management Fund, officials looked at Nags Head.

In that town, each taxpayer paid an average of 7.82 cents in taxes to fund the town share of nourishment -- though owners paid different amounts depending on whether or not their property was on the oceanfront. 

So 7.82 cents was the number used for Kitty Hawk and Duck, but not for Kill Devil Hills because that town had a shorter area to nourishment and very high comparative property values.  The average that will be paid per taxpayer in KDH is 5.514 cents.

Each 1-cent increase on all property in Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras raises $98,865.  Each 1-cent increase on Buxton oceanfront properties raises, by comparison, only $1,676.

If the taxpayers in the three villages paid 7.82 cents more in a service district, they would contribute $773,124 of the $20 million to $27 million cost of the nourishment project.

Several pages of the presentation dealt with numbers and tax rates and you can click here to see the pages in the agenda packet that address a tax service district to pay for Buxton nourishment.

The commissioners asked only a few questions after the  presentation, but acknowledged there was plenty of information to digest.

FERRY TOLLS

At their meeting on Oct. 19, the Board of Commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of tolling the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry,  a topic that was on the agenda for the Albemarle Regional Planning Organization (RPO) on Oct. 21.

The vote came after an N.C. Ferry Division presentation that concluded that the division needed a consistent funding source for the replacement of ferries, which cost about $15 million each.

Before Gov. Pat McCrory's Strategic Transportation Investments Act was passed in 2013, ferries were funded by the legislature in the state budget.  The new transportation plans divides the state into 10 regions and gives them a pot of money to finance all transportation needs.

Now funding of ferries must come out of the pot of money allocated to the 11-member Albemarle RPO -- which totals just $32 million. Both Hyde and Dare are members of the Albemarle RPO.

The RPO, at its Oct. 21, meeting decided to kick the can down the road and make another attempt to get the legislature to reconsider how it funds new ferries when its meets in a short session next spring.

Dare is apparently the only county that actually took a vote on a resolution favoring tolling.  Allen Burrus, who represents Hatteras Island, was the only commissioner who voted against the resolution, although Warren Judge later went to a Hyde County commissioners' meeting to apologize for his vote and to promise that, given another opportunity, he would voted differently.

He got that opportunity last night when Hyde County manager Bill Rich came to the board to ask the members to reconsider their vote.

Rich said that two members of the House of Representatives feel that legislation to get ferry funding removed from the RPO's pot of money is possible in the next session. Furthermore, Rich said, they feel that passing resolutions favoring tolls "is a message that we don't need to send out now."

Funding ferries, Rich said, puts "an impossible burden on the RPO."  He said the RPO counties have stood together and worked together on this and other issues.

"I ask you all to rescind your vote."

Judge made the motion that the board reverse its previous position and take a vote to oppose tolls. Burrus seconded the motion.

"Why are we making a difference between a ferry and a road or a bridge?" asked Judge, calling ferries the state's chosen method to attract tourists to coastal North Carolina and move goods and services.  The ferries have contributed to economic development, he noted.

Commissioner Jack Shea, who represents Dare on the RPO, said that he is "hoping the legislature will come to its senses and realize they are responsible" for ferry replacement and not "pushing it down" to the RPOs.

Commissioner Wally Overman's argued that nothing had really changed in the weeks since the last vote -- that DOT still needed a way to replace ferries and the General Assembly has not been able to get the ferry funding moved out of the RPO's funding pot in the last few years of trying.

His argument apparently prevailed.

The vote was 5-2 against changing the resolution with Burrus and Judge casting the two votes in favor.

The Dare County Board of Commissioners will continue to be on record as being in favor of tolling the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry.

TRI-VILLAGES ZONING

As expected, the commissioners unanimously accepted the recommendation of the Planning Department and the Planning Board that no changes be made to the S-1 zoning in Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo.

During the past year, at the request of the Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo Civic Association and a group of property owners, the county had been exploring adding site-specific zoning to the S-1 designation, which regulates only such things as setbacks and heights.

However, at a final, contentious meeting on Oct. 28, overwhelming opposition to the planned changes emerged. After that the Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend no changes.

The commissioners all thanked the planning staff and the board for their work but agreed that the community did not want to make a change.

They also agreed that it would take "a really big push from the community" to revisit zoning changes in the tri-villages

GRANT TO HATTERAS OCEAN CENTER

At the recommendation of the Dare County Tourism Board, the commissioners approved spending $300,000 from the board's restricted fund for two grants.

One is $250,000 to the town of Nags Head for the development of a former amusement park property into a community park.

The other is for $50,000 to the Hatteras Island Ocean Center in Hatteras village for new "Discover Hatteras exhibits" and improved signage at the Ocean Center Ecology Park. Both, according to the grant application, are designed to increase economic activity in the village in the summer and shoulder seasons of spring and fall.

The money will be matched by grants from the N.C. Department of Commerce and the Nora Roberts Family Foundation.

In the application, HIOC said it had 4,000 visitors in June, July, and August of this year to its two exhibit halls and 4.6 acres of salt marsh and coastal forest that provide a marsh walk, crabbing, and paddlesports.

Click here to see the grant application.

RELATED STORIES

Heads up, Hatteras Island:  Who pays for sand in Buxton?
The fight to keep the ferry free
Pondering the future of the tri-villages






              
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